If Wednesday night’s performance necessitated a talk about Kevin De Bruyne, it felt like the Crystal Palace game focused a growing puzzle around Jack Grealish.
A £100m signing will always come under greater scrutiny than most, and defining the form of players by goals and assists runs the risk of oversimplifying performances. We saw that with De Bruyne this week, when fan accounts on social media chose to ignore what everyone can see on the pitch by pointing at recent goal contributions he made for Belgium.
Grealish has had to change from the clear standout at Aston Villa – the one who scores the goals, makes the goalline clearances, gets the bonus points every week, writes the theme tune, sings the theme tune – to a mere cog in the City machine. The expectation is not to get the goal or assist necessarily, but to make the right decision when the ball is at your feet to ensure that the team scores.
And so, while he has only managed one goal and two assists in the league despite being the most used forward, he deserves credit for learning on the job and adapting to a manager whose set of demands are exactly that: demanding. Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and countless others can explain how becoming a Guardiola player takes time.
However, at some point it really does have to come down to goals and assists.
Grealish was brighter than most Blues in a sluggish display against Palace, wanting the ball, carrying the ball and making runs to try and kickstart them into life.
And yet, for however sharp he looked going towards the final third, he never really looked like scoring or creating a goal. For all the running, positional changes and other good work, the goal threat simply wasn’t there.
It hasn’t been for a while either – it was the same at Club Brugge where he took up a number of excellent positions and was found by Phil Foden on the left wing on a number of occasions, only for those opportunities to come to nothing and City have to find other avenues to get their goals.
Grealish is perhaps fortunate that Raheem Sterling, the previous occupier of that left wing role, has seen his confidence in the final third evaporate. He gave a similar display at West Ham where he looked in control until he approached the box.
For all the praise Grealish deserves for the way he has worked on the less eye-catching parts of his game, there comes a point where that shouldn’t be enough to keep him in the team at the expense of another goal threat.
After two defeats on the spin, it at least has to be considered ahead of a derby against an average United side that City should absolutely not be losing to.